Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

The Singles Jukebox says goodbye

Not all endings are permanent. The Singles Jukebox started on Stylus, and ran for a few years, and only ceased because Stylus itself ceased to be. The planets aligned when two ex-Stylus writers who had never before met turned up by chance at the same quiz night and immediately started talking about starting the Jukebox as a standalone site. Some rickety logistics were figured out, the call was put out to other writers, friends and contacts, and we were back surprisingly quickly.

In many ways, music-crit discourse is in a better place than it was before TSJ, and before Stylus. We gave serious critical consideration to types of music that often didn’t have the best reputation. Today, things are better. It’s true that some parts of the music-criticverse is still dismissive of what’s in the charts, and particularly music listened to by women, young people, queer folk, POCs, and by people in non-English speaking cultures, and these are all things that we proudly championed at TSJ. But looking at what gets a run in major music publications, and it’s clear that even if things aren’t perfect, these artists and these audiences are taken more seriously than they were.

Is this ending permanent? Nobody knows. It’s devastating to be writing this post, not just because we know a lot of our readers loved us, but also because we loved what we did as well. The chances of us coming back are unknown but it may be more likely than a single chance encounter one Thursday night in a pub. The site’s archives will remain online at thesinglesjukebox.com, and if anything TSJ-related, or TSJ-writer related is happening, you’ll hear about it on our Twitter.

For now, we mourn and celebrate ourselves.

(more…)

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

DJ Khaled ft. Fucking Drake and Lil Baby – Staying Alive

One more song? We tried 80 times, but never quite finished him off…


[Video][Website]
[2.85]

Katherine St Asaph: This is bad, and it didn’t have to happen. The site closing, I mean, but also the song.
[3]

John Seroff: Seriously, we’re going out on ANOTHA ONE with Fucking Drake? You know, I don’t believe this guy is even really sad.
[2]

David Moore: Am I gonna get misty from this fucking thing? What a defiant, appropriate, utterly mediocre Fucking Drake song to go out on. I’ll hand it to him — since the moniker came early and stuck around — that he’s somehow adapted and expanded, grown even, without changing the core of who he is or what he does one iota. It’s awe-inspiring in its own weird and special and infuriating way. This is the most unequivocal [6] I’ve ever awarded. Farewell, Jukebox.
[6]

Alfred Soto: What I’ll miss about The Singles Jukebox: drooling on my laptop as I break my brain in search of quips at the expense of the act who has done the most to reduce man-woman relationships into “Have some Xanax, baby, you lied to me.” Fucking Drake.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: As we make our way to the end of Fucking Drake’s imperial era (among other things), the cracks in his edifice are beginning to show. “Staying Alive” is inherently nothing (it’s the lead single for the third post-peak DJ Khaled album, for god’s sake) and ends up being even less than that. This kind of hyper-minimal, amorphous post-trap works for Lil Baby more often than it doesn’t (as recently as a few months ago he gave us the verse of the year on Vince Staples album over something very similar) but combining his ghost in the machine voice with Drake’s smooth loverman act ends up creating an utter absence that even the memory of the Bee Gees cannot fill. It’s three guys ready to play supporting roles when a song this pointless needs a star turn. 
[0]

Nortey Dowuona: I hope Lil Baby has a long, prosperous career, in which he will not have to talk to Drake.
[3]

Rose Stuart: There is one specific circumstance where this song hits, and that’s being drunk and depressed on your birthday. But those circumstances have passed, and seeing as this is TSJ’s last review, I think it’s only right that none of us be forced to listen to these artists ever again. 
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Ever wanted to know what Saturday Night Fever would sound like at the strip club at 4am on a Monday?
[3]

Josh Winters: Well, you can tell by the way Drake spits his flow he’s a woman’s man, no time to throw. Music’s mid and the vid’s routine, I’ve been feeling this since 2016. And now it’s alright, it’s okay, that you may not want to press play. We can try to understand Fucking Drake’s effect on man. Whether you’re a himbo or whether you’re a fuckboy, you’re stayin’ a [5]! Stayin’ a [5]! Feel the city weepin’ and everybody sleepin’ so you’re stayin’ a [5]! Stayin’ a [5]! Ah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Stayin’ a [5]! Stayin’ a [5]! Ah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Staying a fiiiiiiIIIIIIiIiiIIIIIIIIiiiiive, oh, when you’re Drake!
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: A charitable view would be that Drake and Lil Baby’s enfeebled efforts to sap all of the Bee Gees’ vitality are a satirical metacommentary, winking so slyly at the camera that it could be mistaken for a sleep-deprived eye twitch. It could be inferred that, beyond their protestations, they recognise their mortality; that indeed, they are haunted by it. Are they present, or are they already ghosts? If life is just moaning about women, is it life at all? If only we had more time to contemplate. Oh well — for the moment, you could just whack on a bit of N-Trance.
[3]

Brad Shoup: “Wants and Needs,” but without the needs. A lovely mellotron-like figure flows in and out of itself while the features copy each other’s homework.
[4]

Michael Hong: Complete misuse of the interpolation — Drake’s autotune isn’t the issue, but when the most familiar part is at the front and you’ve already heard how despondent Drake’s made it, what’s the payoff?
[1]

Jibril Yassin: Some of Drake’s best songs involve a seeming lack of effort on his part but there’s something to be said about failing to lift an interpolation into something resembling the inspired. I can’t believe I’m already yearning for the days when DJ Khaled clutched Four Loko cans with more effort than what’s being displayed here. Fucking imperial phases really make you think shit lasts forever sometimes.
[0]

Anaïs Escobar Mathers: This sounds like every other mid Drake song with only the Bee Gees reference and DJ Khaled yelling his own name (we know his wife isn’t doing that, y’all) breaking up the monotony. 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: I hate hearing DJ Khaled’s same-in-every-song proclamations (you know the ones), Lil Baby is to my ears a dull, lowest-common-denominator rapper (so of course he’s huge), and Fucking Drake just moans in autotune over and over. Khaled’s records are the epitome of capitalism and conspicuous consumption writ into streaming 0s and 1s, and this is, impressively, one of his worst ever.
[0]

Al Varela: Worst DJ Khaled and Drake collab to date. This beat is DISTRESSINGLY bad. It’s one thing for the song to not even have a trace of disco influence, but the beat is so flimsy and empty it sounds like a preset. Drake is so badly implemented that his vocal sounds like the acapella version of itself. Him lazily singing “Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive” with his trademark monotone is so forced, it’s not even ironically funny. Lil Baby is clearly just here for the favor. The whole song reeks of hack work. Another instance of Khaled desperate to keep the meme alive through his Drake leverage and stupid videos, hoping to convince you that maybe he’s still funny and it’s worth buying into his “success” bullshit. I’m ready to stop dignifying this clown when you are.
[1]

Alex Clifton: If you put “sad Bee Gees” and “mumbling” into one of those AI art generators, you’d end up with this mess. Fucking Drake ruins the party again!
[0]

Ian Mathers: There was a Twitter prompt recently about what irrational and frivolous law you would pass if you were suddenly a total dictator. I couldn’t think of anything, but “DJ Khaled isn’t allowed to be credited as the artist for these things” might be a contender. Maybe if he brought anything interesting or distinctive to the production and/or writing (the right artist could do a lot less than Khaled and still make the credit feel legit, to be clear). Just say it’s a Fucking Drake song. And I’m fucking exhausted of that guy.
[3]

Iris Xie: I hate you sooooo much Drake. I’m so glad that this website has existed so we could go “Fucking Drake” for its eternity, you creepy grooming-ass self. 
[0]

Will Adams: Brag about your apparent invincibility over that soporific beat all you want, boys. Just know that you’re nothing without the Jukebox. NOTHING.
[3]

Hannah Jocelyn: I don’t hate the hook — I like how the “ah-ah-ah-ah” is shifted to the last two beats of the previous measure, but the empty space implies he had an interpolation and nothing else to back it up but the laziest internal rhymes possible (what is it again, “want me to fry, want me to dry?”). There used to be Drake memes mocking his “sensitivity” and his passive-aggression — recognizable traits, but this has no personality and is also… nihilistic? Drake doesn’t sound too thrilled about staying alive — Lil Baby’s verse is generic but at least he sounds happy to be there. Even though he’s had a handful of big hits since “The Story Of Adidon”, it feels like Fucking Drake gave up completely around that time, and since then has fucking succeeded only because he’s too big to fail. I used to think a line in Kanye West’s “Famous” went “No matter how hard we try/we’re never gonna die”, and I feel that about Drake’s continued failed self-sabotage. Certified Lover Boy’s corny memes had no lasting impact, Honestly, Nevermind would have killed anyone else’s career, “Staying Alive” would be some Dose of Buckley-type asshole’s #1 worst song in 2009, yet everything he does continues to be a hit. I’ll give him this, though: as of now, he’s outlived his harshest critics. 
[3]

Tim de Reuse: Acts whose names you know because you know their names on a song that quotes a song that you know just because everyone knows it — a whimpering ouroboros of self-reference. The beat shivers in place. Lil Baby’s autotune shakes like a wine glass about to shatter. Semantic porridge. And so Drake’s career shall be, long after the archive of this site has passed into memory; long into the next millennium, long into the period where picture-perfect holograms of him perform from an endlessly regenerating AI catalogue of his mildest hits in oxygen bars around the moons of Saturn. Content mush for the content gods; forever and ever, Amen.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: It feels fitting: the Jukebox dies, DJ Khaled releases another one, Drake contributes yet another slight Drake verse that could have come out any time in the seven-year crawl since Drake last released a good album. The timbre of the drums changes like the seasons, the guests on the track switch out. I accept it. None of us goes on forever. We will be outlived by the stars in the sky, by the winds and the rains, by continental drift and rivers eroding great valleys, by DJ Khaled and Fucking Drake.
[4]

Oliver Maier: I keep trying to write a blurb that feels fitting for the occasion, a dissertation on what Drake means, the decade of Drake, how Drake is us and we are all Drake and blah blah blah. In the end, I don’t know if it’s that deep. What I do know is that this song is a chore to sit through, a three-legged victory lap by Drake and Lil Baby with DJ Khaled alone in the stands absolutely losing his shit. Sometimes a song is just some rich guys cashing in and it doesn’t deserve some of the smartest, funniest people on the internet explaining how it sucks. The Singles Jukebox is about more than Drake. Pop music is about more than Drake. The biggest, surliest star in the night sky is still only a fraction of the universe.
[0]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: What if the real Singles Jukebox was the friends we made along the way, and the worst songs were some of the best at bringing us together.
[10]

Mark Sinker: congratulations we played ourselves 
[7]

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

Burna Boy – Last Last

So long! It’s been a blast (blast).


[Video][Website]
[7.61]
Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Weed and booze meditations on a fizzled relationship, which feel like a warm and fuzzy cloud — a fitting title and sentiment to round out the Jukebox universe.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The way this Afrobeats track rides a sample from Toni Braxton’s 2000 smash “He Wasn’t Man Enough” is so smart, I can hardly stand it. (Sure, it’s been used a few times before, but never as well as it is on “Last Last.”) Burna Boy himself is fine, but the track is the star.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Breakups can make you manic, and it was all I could do to follow Burna Boy’s switchbacks. There’s a little fatalism, some victory lapping, a chorus that eyes the bar but doesn’t hit as well as the group vocal of the intro. Sampling “He Wasn’t Man Enough” is a great gag: the strum is as restless as Burna, but they kept Toni’s coos, hovering placidly over this mess, refusing to engage.
[7]

Jessica Doyle: This is sweet, catchy but melancholy, and a song I never would have thought to listen to had it not been The Penultimate Song in the Blurber. (I never would have thought to listen to the first song in the blurber after I got my TSJ acceptance, either.) It takes a certain amount of energy to keep your mind open and your ear catholic, to not default to playing the same songs you find comfort in over and over and over, and the more opportunities you have to find new things the more energy it may take, and here I’m thinking of something I read recently: “What makes online life what it is (that is to say, a hellscape) is the constant and unprocessable realization that billions of other minds exist that go through everything we go through… the untold hundreds of thousands you will connect with online in your life makes real your own meaninglessness in the sea of others.” One of the great gifts of the Jukebox was its demand that its writers rise to the occasion and evince that energy: so while we did spend ungodly amounts of words on Fucking Drake and Fucking Taylor, we also considered Kyrgyz feminist swirls and banjo-strumming friars and gleefully contemptuous electropop and yeah almost a decade later I still don’t know what was going on here. We had to get out of our own heads, or at least admit that we were staying in our own heads. It’ll be harder to do that without the prompt of the Jukebox. But it seems to me that one of the great challenges of life is how things keep changing, nothing gold can stay, na everybody go chop breakfast; if you prefer, the great paradox articulated by Rabbi Simcha Bunam, that we are simultaneously beloved creations of G-d and dust and ashes, or by Octavia Butler, that that G-d is both change and changeable. One confronts one’s own meaninglessness and makes meaning anyway. Listening to a pop song you might not have heard otherwise is nothing. Listening to a pop song you might not have heard otherwise is love. Bye, Jukebox. Hello, friends. Let’s not stop. I love y’all.
[8]

Alex Ostroff: Burna Boy gets over a bad break-up by getting drunk and stoned with Toni Braxton stuck on repeat. Warm and melancholy and a little bit uplifting in the exact way that listening to “He Wasn’t Man Enough” after a break-up tends to be. As moving as the production is, and as compelling as some of his lines are, at the end of the day “Last Last” is a good song haunted by the ghost of a great one, endlessly looping Toni’s opening vocal riff without any of the strength or catharsis her original ultimately provides.
[7]

Hannah Jocelyn: It’s hard to compete with Rodney Jerkins’ production on “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” but the five producers here do their best with an aggressively punchy drum kit and filtered strings, even as they occasionally threaten to drown out Burna Boy. Maybe it’s deliberate — the lyrics are petty and messy, alternating between “she manipulate my love” and “maybe in another life, you will be my wife”, which makes for an uncomfortable close listen. (But also makes it a better Drake song than any Drake song this year!) It’s on the hook where everything comes together, all the messiness coalescing into gang vocals shouting “I need igbo and shayo” in a hook big enough to unite crowds worldwide, pandemic be damned.
[7]

Will Adams: The genius of the sample is not just drawing some Darkchild from the nostalgia well but how Burna Boy flips it to be a direct response to “He Wasn’t Man Enough”: “Why you say I did nothing for you / When I for do anything you want me to do,” he retorts, intensifying the drama. But despite it all — the drama, the disappointment, the bitter lump that settles in your stomach when you accept that something that’s been part of your life for so long has come to an end — he finds comfort in the chorus. “I need igbo and shayo,” goes the refrain, and while drowning oneself in substances isn’t a great coping mechanism, there’s a sense, from the choir of backing vocals around him, that he’s in good company, and while it might hurt now, he’ll be okay in the end. The key to this song’s greatness is convincing me that I’m gonna be okay, too. Onward into the unknown.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Loud and clear, the opening chorus announces that while loss is collective, so is joy. “Last Last” would sound a lot more lonely were Burna Boy not joined by those massed ranks, all speaking as one, but all with their own stories to tell. While they may be dancing on blistered feet, they’re dancing together. And if that isn’t something to celebrate, what is?
[8]

David Sheffieck: We haven’t had a Song of the Summer (TM) since 2019, when after a few years of questionable or middling or forgettable chart-toppers Lil Nas X proved it was still possible to hit all four quadrants. But every year has had at least one banger that could hold the title, and this time that dubious honor goes to “Last Last.” Heartbroken and dismissive, fatalist and hedonistic, it’s the song for the most fragmented pandemic summer yet. The way Burna Boy situates the titular hook in a refrain that’s only repeated as a late prechorus is audacious; the way the chorus vocals rise to envelop him is irresistible. That I haven’t been hearing “Last Last” every time I smelled charcoal or walked by a park this summer isn’t exactly surprising, but it also doesn’t seem right.
[10]

Alex Clifton: If I heard this song anywhere else, I’d like it; I’d think it was catchy with an interesting choral hook. I might say “dope, awesome” and leave it at that. It stands out from the blur of pop I’ve heard this year and actually caught my attention, and I know I’ll be thinking about it for a while. But listening to this knowing it’s one of the last songs The Singles Jukebox will blurb makes it extra bittersweet. All things come to an end, whether they be something as simple as a movie or as long-running and complex as a relationship. It’s a hard thing to face. Even under a veneer of braggadocio, there’s no denying that it hurts. But songs like “Last Last” make me even more thankful for all that TSJ has given me: an insight into music from around the world I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, an environment to get creative with my own writing, an opportunity to write alongside folks I really respect and admire, and an audience who cared about what we had to say. It’s been a wonderfully unique experience, and I cannot stress how grateful I am to have played a small part in this site’s history. So I’m going to listen to this all year with a little lump in my throat, no matter how corny or dramatic that sounds, and think of you all whenever I hear it; I hope you think of us too.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: To the whole Singles Jukebox, to all my fellow Africans out there, to my Nigerian co-worker, thank you. Pls, Burna Boy’s voice is as luxurious as ever, even in full autotune.
[10]

Oliver Maier: I love Burna Boy. I love the feeling in the way he sings, I love the texture of his voice, I love how the last syllables in every line pop and glisten. I love “He Wasn’t Man Enough” as well, and I think the sample works beautifully here. I love when pop music is good, because it’s like a party trick that you don’t get tired of.
[8]

Ian Mathers: This is exactly the kind of song I’d usually wind up not blurbing; not because it’s bad, not because it’s good, but just because (often and especially after blurbing a bunch of other songs) I had trouble finding anything to say about it. The production is nice, Burna Boy is compelling and skillful over it, the massed vocals are a nice touch. But pretty much every song I’ve read about on The Singles Jukebox has featured some combination of people going deep on stuff I’ve never heard of before, cracking incredible jokes, pulling out heartfelt and personal reactions to songs, catching stuff I’ve missed, missing stuff I’ve caught, and just plain outwriting me. I hope on at least some songs I’ve been able to be the person doing one of those (or, if I’m lucky, all of them over the years) for someone. And I assure you that even my most mediocre or ill-conceived blurb was an attempt to keep up to that standard. Even when I’ve had the time and energy (I didn’t need to find the desire, that’s always there) to try and blurb everything, there was a song or two where the only things I could think to say felt like they wouldn’t meet the standard, and after a few frustrating attempts I’d just empty the text box and hit the “Go back” button. I’ll even miss getting to do that.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Breaking up in public as a pop star seems bad, and breaking up with another pop star in public seems worse still. “Last Last” captures the fullness of that experience. It’s an uncomfortable listen at times, mercurial and filled with passing ugly feelings, but it’s also beautiful on the pure level of melody and language, a collection of folklore and borrowed phrasings that come together into a song that stays ambiguous and uncertain to the end.
[8]

Iris Xie: The Singles Jukebox is literally the best, and I love you so much. This song is basically a fitting goodbye: a sad, grooving banger, which basically sums up how I’ve felt about being in TSJ the past few years. A group of really wonderful, caring, considerate and super smart people who truly care about music criticism and good writing in a time when throw-away hot takes and stan cloutchasing has dominated so-called music writing. Say hi when you see us around on the other corners of the internet!
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: School started a couple weeks ago and one of my students told me that she went to her first concert over the summer — it was for her favorite artist, Burna Boy. I mentioned that I went to the Davido show earlier this year and then told her about the other Nigerian musicians coming to Chicago soon. It was a nice moment, and I can thank TSJ for it; this website fueled my love for international pop music like nothing else, and has helped me remain curious about art and the world around me. I’ve fallen in love with so many things in my time here — the act of writing and listening, the intercultural and intergenerational dialogues inherent in music, my analytical and emotional sides. I get all of that here, from a track whose Toni Braxton sample is a clever foundation for a post-breakup song that’s as mournful as it is celebratory. All good things end that way.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Undulating with confidence, lingering not a bit, “Last Last” is the ideal club banger.
[6]

John Seroff: Burna Boy’s most recent album is a nearly unmitigated joy (red-headed asterisk goes here) and “Last Last” is likely the best track on there. Burna treats the core engine of “Last,” a chugging and pinging upcycled Braxton classic, as a flashy obstacle course that he dodges through with personality and energy enough for two. If this is the final track for this incarnation of the Singles Jukebox, it’s worth remembering that “Last” doesn’t have to mean the end. It can mean that we keep, that we stay beyond expectations. See you at the next finish line.
[8]

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

Steve Lacy – Bad Habit

We Jukeboxers are not long for guitar heroes.


[Video][Website]
[7.09]
Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Steve Lacy got popular as a solo act off a series of iPhone demos, and even as he’s moved to increasingly complex studio compositions he’s not managed to shrug off the feeling that he’s making sketches rather than songs. He’s not a virtuoso in either the complimentary (Prince, Joni) or derogatory (Yngwie Malmsteen, Jacob Collier) ways, but something in between — so obviously gifted with melody and guitar arrangement that his songwriting has not had to evolve much since the middle of the last decade. Yet you can’t really blame him for not making a masterpiece yet; “Bad Habit”, even with all of its lazy rhymes and simplistic riffing, still shines as a fitfully perfect bauble of a pop song, a track that dances on the edge of glory with every guitar strum but never quite reaches it.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: One of the first blurbs I wrote for TSJ was on a Readers’ Week post for Thundercat’s “Them Changes.” I wasn’t a fan, but things changed after “Dragonball Durag“; I appreciated how his NAMM-ready jazz-funk could serve as a distinct conduit for playfulness. I always thought the first Steve Lacy track I’d like would be a similar deal, where his straightforward songwriting, endearingly imperfect vocals and subpar lyrics could become transcendent through the almighty power of lo-fi production. He gets there with “Bad Habit,” a track that wields his familiar DIY stylings but ensures every little moment is part of a larger tapestry (a mere “vibe” this is not). The key is the mid-song switch-up, unfurling the hook-laden first half into a sincere call to fuck. It’s his slickest song.
[6]

Alfred Soto: A pleasant soft-focus R&B track anchored to the wunderkind’s goofy multi-track vocals. The less attention paid to lines about biting a lover’s tongue the better.
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The evolution from “I bite my tongue, it’s a bad habit” to “Uh, can I bite your tongue like my bad habit?” is delectable. Steve Lacy has SZA’s talent for writing music that sounds both like dialogue and something ripped straight from a diary. (Or maybe it’s Taylor Swift’s: “Let’s fuck in the back of the mall, lose control” sounds suspiciously like “Meet me behind the mall.”) I can only imagine the hold this song will have during cuffing season.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: This Anderson .Paak-ish R&B is delightful because of its off-kilter-ness: the way Lacy plays with the beat, the way he occasionally slips into a near-falsetto, the repeated “it’s biscuits, it’s gravy” lyric. “Bad Habit” fucks with form and genre for not just Lacy’s enjoyment, but ours, too, and ends up sounding ridiculously fresh.
[8]

Alex Ostroff: Wistful queer longing, languid like Rihanna’s Tame Impala cover, with some looseness reminiscent of Miguel doing Prince. It takes deliberate thought to smoothly morph the arrangement multiple times over the course of four minutes, but somehow “Bad Habit” sounds effortless and spontaneous instead of overcooked. Lacy pines and wishes he’d been bolder in his pursuit of love, but this is the type of unassuming joint you’re likely to underrate and put on in the background until it’s crept up on you and claimed your heart.
[8]

Michael Hong: The trick to “Bad Habit” is how it cuts the first line to make you feel like you missed the step, like you should be catching up to Lacy as he rambles about a missed connection. It’s disappointing, then, when he cuts the atmosphere, leaving you feeling like you’ve finally caught up and all he’s got is inattentive advice, a contradictory deflection through the warbled voice cracks of someone too young to truly miss out.
[4]

Al Varela: There’s something so deliciously infectious about the way Steve Lacy sings “I wish I knew you wanted me”. It’s a lyric that’s been stuck in my brain ever since I first heard it. It matches the mix of euphoria and disappointment that comes with learning someone was interested in you, but it’s been long enough that they’ve moved on from it. In a way, the song almost feels like a dream — especially with the languid guitar and squealing synths giving a very lax, lovestruck feel you can only get with unrequited (re-requited?) love. Plus, the switch-up at the end with the buzzy percussion that almost sounds like beatboxing is a great change of pace. It reminds me a lot of Flower Boy, actually. An album he was in this whole time, in fact! Always exciting to see a longtime artist and collaborator catch their big break with an outstanding song.
[9]

Oliver Maier: Lacy might be one of the most influential artists of the last half-decade, his particular flavour of ear candy now the de facto sound for a good chunk of bedroom pop. You can trace it back further — the lo-fi nonchalance from Blood Orange, the reverby guitars from Mac DeMarco — but Lacy’s meat-and-potatoes approach was the easiest to emulate, and so it flourished. “Bad Habits”, like much of his subsequent output, is the sound of Lacy unable or unwilling to surface from under his own tidal wave. He doesn’t convince me that he cared about this relationship much. That’s okay. He’s not trying to.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Subtly, this is a real power move — to go from “I wish I knew you wanted me” to “let’s fuck in the back of the mall” without ever sounding like you’re breaking a sweat or are even too concerned with the outcome. Everything just feels laid-back, in a way where you can imagine it’d be easy to go along with him.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: No this site was too good for me, my dear.
[9]

Tuesday, August 30th, 2022

aespa – Girls

We’re here for the backstory.


[Video][Website]
[6.73]
Crystal Leww: SM want aespa to be a label savior, crafting a mythology around them and Kwangya, the metaverse in which they reside. That’s fine, probably too much pressure, to be honest, but all I need to believe when I listen to aespa is encapsulated in the 15 seconds coming out of the bridge — the crunchy guitar, the propulsive beat, Winter’s “hold up.” I believe that aespa could be one of the biggest things that SM ever did if they ever just let these girls and their producers breathe. I want none of the ambition that SM has somehow wrapped them up in and I just want to punch someone in a moshpit to this (compliment).
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A delightfully obnoxious, well-polished machine that makes Western pop feel infantile by comparison.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Still can’t say I understand anything about the lore but I’m here for this for the same reason I engage with similarly pulpy sci-fi: the extreme confidence with which they turn their immensely convoluted worldbuilding into pyrotechnics. Anyone else would be left with pure incoherence — the aespa girls manage to turn it into an arsenal of hits, dramatic but not so overburdened with purpose that it doesn’t work as a banger.
[8]

Michael Hong: Their debut tested the concept but aespa have gone full force with it, throwing undefined pieces of lore like “REKALL,” “SYNK DIVE,” and on “Girls,” new highlight “nævis on the REAL MY WORLD.” It’s all utter nonsense but “Savage” and “Girls” have the good sense to combine it with sheer overstimulation so that every mention of “Kwangya” feels familiar if delightfully funny. The rest of “Girls” is the SM concept executed to perfection: cool girl posturing meets the absurd stupidity of the concept (check out the size of Winter’s meta-universe gun). Garish sections are messily meshed together only as a whirlwind of noise in the mechanical warnings, loud dance break and rock riffs underneath Giselle and Karina’s raps. Winter and Ningning bring the excess as they belt and shriek across its final sections. The rest is perhaps bits of aespa’s personality starting to come through, yelps and whoops paired with cold stares as if they’re also in disbelief they still have to sing about fighting the Black Mamba.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: I had to admit to myself that I’d tipped over from simply feeling like aespa isn’t for me to actively avoiding the group (and, furthermore, that I was a lot more receptive to this kind of nonsense when Everglow did it). I’m still allergic to the Kwangya worldbuilding, and it doesn’t help that as I get older and more wrinkled I also get more and more uneasy with the sheer amount of plastic surgery Korean idol pop seems to inflict upon / offer / require of its idols. But none of this has anything to do with the actual song, which at least has some fun dubstep energy. The second half of the chorus loses some of the momentum from the first half (and also, their being girls has nothing to do with anything else in the song, they could’ve just gone ahead and shouted something about Naevis again). But there are clearly worse things that could happen to both us and aespa than a danceable dystopian distant descendant of “Rude Boy.” If this is for you, enjoy it.
[5]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: Oh my god, I’m just so tired of this shout-singing chorus, minor key, “ooooh I’m a scary teen” K-pop nonsense. For god’s sake, just let the kids be cute for a couple years! What happened to all that charming NCT Dream type shit??? Now half these music videos are narrative-heavy dystopian trudges, accompanied by fractured synths and a harsh transition to the glissando-ing pre-chorus. Even freaking TXT have been showing up places covered in soot lately! Anyway, regarding aespa here — the only redeeming factor of “Girls” is that it’s an SM track, and those people cannot resist cramming at least one legitimately sticky melody in every song. I’ve added an additional point to my score because it’s just so entertaining to hear the senior SM artists complaining about Kwangya. Never change, Eunhyuk.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: While aespa’s Savage mini felt like a collage of older SM girl groups, “Girls” is a signpost for the austerity that defines K-pop’s current era. In one sense it’s very sad: the genre has undergone a considerable shift throughout the past 15 years from “ambitious and fun” to “ambitious and respectable.” Even SuperM’s “Jopping,” which is the precursor to SM’s desire to create a label-spanning superhero multiverse, was closer to the deliriously absurd maximalism of Fast & Furious than its dire “Avengers of K-pop” narrative. On the other hand, this change is just a matter of recalibration. When I listen to “Girls,” its steely electronics are trading in the dubstep bombast of SHINee’s “Everybody” for imperial cool (you don’t need Teddy’s production to see the Blackpink influence). And really, this is just f(x)’s “Red Light” if one doubled down on the humorlessness. More broadly, “Girls” points to how the industry today eschews balladry-informed singing for talk/shout-singing and hip-hop pomp. It works here because it’s a dazzling spectacle: listen to the guitar crunch, trace the flagellating synth horn melody, feel the drama of its stripped-down bridge before it tumbles into a ferocious instrumental break. After all these years, K-pop songs are still convinced of their ideas and energy; the confidence is magnetic.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Seeing that “Girls” is about “aespa and ae-aespa having a full-fledged battle with Black Mamba” and then reading the English translation of the lyrics is the first time I’ve felt like I was reading item descriptions in Dark Souls in order to figure out parts of a pop video. More lore drops in pop music, I guess I’m saying, although the song itself feels kind of timid — the crazy techno bit is good enough but feels weirdly divorced or quarantined from the rest of the song. Have them sing over that bit! Make the rest of the song less standard! Lean into the less typical bits!
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Talking big and saying little, “Girls” is less kitchen sink and more washing-up bowl. Bearing only traces of maximalism, it has the uncanny air of a workprint, with markers for “DATED DROP TO GO HERE” and “SASSY BIT NOW”. None of the disparate elements on display have half their intended power, and that’s a shame — irrespective of how played out they may be, they still have the potential to pack a punch.
[5]

Alex Ostroff: Other tracks might combine girl group vocals with four-on-the-floor handclaps and late-nite spooky synths, or grinding bass with sudden abrasive intrusions of guitar, or slightly out-of-tune saxophone-esque loops, but “Girls” just melds them all together and makes it sound natural. Since Rina Sawayama is seemingly pivoting towards more earnest and commercially accessible (but still excellent) songs for her sophomore album, I’ve been missing these types of Girls Aloud-era Xenomania-style aggressive sonic genre mash-ups in 2022, and I’m excited to learn that aespa are fully committed to bonkers stitched-together pop.
[8]

Rose Stuart: After spending 2021 releasing what I must charitably refer to as “unlistenable garbage”, it’s good of aespa and SM Entertainment to remember experimental doesn’t have to mean bad. Every idea in “Girls” is well developed, meaning that the small genre shifts create a cohesive collage instead of discordant noise. The rock, EDM, hip-hop and pop elements gel together perfectly, almost as if this is from the company that pioneered this style in K-pop. “Girls” may not be the best SMP song, but it gives me hope for a genre that I feared had been murdered by its mutant descendants.
[8]

Kayla Beardslee: On the scale from “Savage” (not something I would casually listen to, but decently successful at its ambitions and I respect it) to “Next Level” (my mortal enemy, etc), this lands somewhere in the middle, just below “Black Mamba.” I would be more generous to “Girls” if the production had more distinct sonic character and was less of a flat mishmash of noises, and if the vocals were less shouty and shrill (I prefer Karina’s high notes, even though she’s not in the vocal line, because her timbre doesn’t fall victim to this as easily as Winter or NingNing’s). Giselle going “pArT oF mY hEaRt” is funny, though not in an intentional way. The dance break is cool, but it feels like a tease at a more vibrant version of the song that exists in a (Giselle voice) PaRaLleL wOrLd. Choreo doesn’t affect my score, but I have to say it — someone save these girls from that dumb-ass flamingo hop. I’ve settled into a comfortable if unstable equilibrium with aespa: they do their thing, it generally isn’t for me, but I still observe and give low-stakes comments from the sidelines, hoping to see the execution of their music deliver on SM’s ambitions for it. I guess someone has to keep things interesting.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Guitar slashing, hand claps, horror film piano tinkle, vocals as savage as speakers at a political convention — “Girls” has so much going on without exhausting me, schlock and speed and pathos driving the car into the wall and walking out, unscathed and triumphant.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: I will say this for aespa: they are those girls far more than Wiz Khalifa. Also NingNing hits a really nice note on the last pre-chorus that has my eyes floating out of my head.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: K-pop was the most intimidating genre for me when I started writing on the Jukebox back in 2013. I didn’t know how to approach it, and the fact that so many of our writers are experts on it made me feel there were better voices to cover it. However, following the spirit of this site, I always listened to the songs in the blurber and tried. Most times, I couldn’t put my thoughts together, but in 2017 we covered Jonghyun’s “She Is” and I felt a new music world open upon me. Not only could I hear his charisma, but for the first time I felt confident writing about a K-pop song. I didn’t become an immediate fan of the genre; instead it was only last year that I became fascinated with it. SHINee became my favorite group and SM my favorite label. On that journey, I found myself completely confused by K-pop songs many times — particularly ones from SM, a label known for that — but instead of being intimidated by them, I dove into the complexities of the songwriting and production and learnt how the choreography, concept and more played a huge role in it. When I listened to aespa’s “Girls” and the hard rock pre-chorus started I wasn’t turned off, but the opposite. It was exciting, made me curious to see where the song could go and made me love how it grew more and more intense with each second. NingNing and Winter’s piercing voices play a huge role in that, while Karina and Giselle’s tones bring it down, making a great balance. And look at me! Now I’m one of those writers who can distinguish each vocalist in a K-pop group. That seemed impossible to me ten years ago — and I started learning Korean this week (ask me in a couple of years how that played out). But what a decade it has been. I’m sure my thought of 2022 contradicts my reviews of 2013. I can’t avoid thinking that my musical growth can be seen in all my words here. In other music publications, it would just be words. But this is different: there’s a whole part of me that will be forever saved (and safe) in The Singles Jukebox.
[9]

Tuesday, August 30th, 2022

Nicky Youre and dazy – Sunroof

“I wanted to have a product that was fun and high-energy while still being easy to listen to.”


[Video]
[4.87]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A marvel of theoretical pop physics: a song that exists without a single idea needing to have been expended at any point in its production. Too long, and it’s less than three minutes already.
[3]

Al Varela: This is one of those songs you can tell was manufactured to be a hit, especially with its bright tones and devilishly catchy chorus, but sometimes that’s all a song needs to stick with you. I’m probably not gonna come back to “Sunroof” all that often in the coming years, but in this moment where the chorus is still fresh and the energy hasn’t died out, it never fails to make me smile. 
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: When white people finally kill rap, it will sound like this, and we will deserve it.
[0]

Oliver Maier: So content is “Sunroof” in its own vacuousness that I can’t hate it like I would hate a Rex Orange County song for trying to be poignant. “Only got one thing in the back of my mind” evokes in startling detail the image of a single brain cell containing the concept of making out dinging around Nicky Youre’s cavernous skull like a bouncing logo screensaver. 
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: “You got those pretty eyes in your head” is some android-fixated-on-human-physiology phrasing that falls between the tactility of “Fresh Eyes” and the body horror of “Who gave you eyes like that/Said you could keep them.” “Sunroof” has other icky qualities, like a vocal squeezed into a little toothpaste squiggle of minty freshness; this AI is attempting a chirrup of joy.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s hard not to feel a warmth for this eminent dweeb, reputedly the first ever resident of Owl City. Someone has to make songs for Disney Channel party scenes, and he’s done so efficiently: drawing an untapped concept from the summertime word cloud, then strumming it up into anodyne fantasy. Boring, but harmless.
[5]

Rose Stuart: Bland, inoffensive and catchy — this song is tailor-made for TikTok. Personally, I liked it better when it was called “Better Now” by Post Malone.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Sure, this is a cute, lightweight head-nodder of a summer pop radio jam, but the vocals are intensely irritating, with that post-Post Malone “I’m not going to enunciate a single word” effect that makes it ultimately unlistenable for me.
[2]

Anaïs Escobar Mathers: I love this kind of pop song, with the la-di-da’s and a clear lean on that ineffable summer feeling where you could potentially have a crush again just because it feels that good to feel even a few minutes of sunshine on your face. It’s fun goddamnit, and for maybe three or so minutes, it’s nice to forget about everything going on except how you feel kind of alright while listening to it.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Life is Good t-shirt-ass song.
[2]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A pleasant, breezy entry for song of the summer which unfortunately feels so clumsy and substanceless that one wonders if it’s the product of generations of Maroon 5 inbreeding. 
[5]

John Seroff: The difficult bit of making pop is altering the recipe barely enough to show flashes of originality without losing the form. Those that over-polish or pander run the risk of reminding us more of the production ladder than hot summer nights. Not to say there aren’t pleasures to be had in the vacuum-packed, just that those thrills tend toward penny-candy short and sweet. “Sunroof” is fittingly something of Starburst, redolent of wax paper but creamy and satisfying under the right pressure. If the savor is forgettable, at least it doesn’t foul the palate.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: Some of my favorite songs to cover on The Singles Jukebox were the “this is not going to change your life” kind; the kind of songs that when I listen to them I think “oh, this is nice”, but know that after reviewing them, I probably won’t listen again. But would I mind if I turned the radio on by a summer sunset as I’m driving and “Sunroof” came along? Of course not. I would even tap my fingers on the wheel to the beat. 
[7]

Ian Mathers: One thing I won’t miss: Having to sit through the entirety of songs where people sing like this.
[4]

Brad Shoup: The chorus is “Better Now” snaking a hand out the passenger window, so that’s already a great start. There’s his vowel-munching drawl: not fratty, just eager to impress. There’s the sun-scrambled lyric, which has all these stock images and automatic phrases but cuts and deals them in magical ways. There’s the engineering on the intro that pretends this is beaming in over a crappy transistor from the bygone paradise of… 2011. There’s you are exactly what I want/kinda cool and kinda not: a perfect line. There’s the sturdy chording and a killer wordless singalong and apparently a Thomas Rhett co-write? Please keep your heart open for [10]s; they are all over.
[10]

Monday, August 29th, 2022

Halsey – So Good

Well, pretty good…


[Video]
[5.27]

Al Varela: This is one of the best-written songs Halsey has ever made. A really charming love song where Halsey reminisces on the many years of yearning she had for her current partner, before everything finally turns around and she finds out he’d been yearning for her for just as long. The journey Halsey takes us through is strife with detail and compassion that paints the picture of a perfect world that actually manages to come to life. Production-wise, it’s not as gripping, but the little passionate wail they do when they reach the second half of the chorus shows a love that is true and has been long and coming. Lovely song.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: No, it’s not.
[2]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The bridge hints a much more interesting song about betrayal and romance, but the rest–especially the “I know it’s bad, but we could be so good” hook–feels massively underwritten. Halsey proved they can be more ambitious and still stick the landing on “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” so this feels like a regression. 
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: After eight years (a decade if you’re on Tumblr) of Halsey, it’s clear that she is what she is. Regardless of whether they are doing EDM crossover, pure pop, or 90s alt pastiches, Halsey has always been more interesting in theory than practice, always bringing in cool ideas and losing them slightly in implementation, let down by clumsy wordings or cheap-sounding production. “So Good” continues in this lineage for its first two and a half minutes, content to anchor some generic romantic observations in a strong hook and a generic instrumental. But in its last 40 seconds, “So Good” manages to break out of its trap of mediocrity, ending with a moment of beautiful clarity that almost gives purpose to the rest of the song. It’s fleeting, sure. But so is all great pop.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Halsey was an artist we covered here with either a polite distance or a polite disapproval, never hate or love – we saved that for artists we clearly felt a strong way one way or the other. Me personally, Halsey debuted with New Americana, one of the worst songs to have as a hit and the best sing to start a career with; deeply bland and gawd awful and I tuned her out…until I actually started listening, then I realized she was very good, and was trying. And with this song, I’m seeing the rising, loop synths and the soft, gentle tone Halsey presses against them, then the straining, heartbroken howl she bounces off the bright, overexposed guitar strings and limo bright drums in the chorus, and the wistful, thoughtful tune she settles as each chorus closes. As she wails through the bridge into the chorus into the end, I feel the sadness and rage, the shame and fear, the pensive and passion, it’s a feeling I never thought I’d have from Halsey. It’s a feeling that I felt when I saw the writing on the server wall about this site. It’s something everyone want to put across everytime they put the pain they feel at each broken relationship they struggle through and wrote down, played on the guitar, record into ProTools, play for random nice notepads in a sterile, unclean office, release onto the morass of every Spotify clone and cross their fingers. It’s something that I didn’t realize I wanted to keep close to me until I realized I was standing on the same sidewalk in August 2017, thinking I was gonna write about music and make some money. Then, in 2022, I got told I chased the money and lost the most special part: the music. Ed, we could’ve been so good, but I ran away, and I’m sorry.
[10]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: My first exposure to Halsey outside of blue red violet tumblr edits was the same as my first exposure to Machine Gun Kelly: Cameron Crowe’s short lived masturbatory Showtime dramedy Roadies. The running gag about the tour not being able to keep an opener was actually a way to shoehorn in whatever single the acts Crowe liked (or likely their licensing group wanted to promote) on a weekly basis. And yeah, there was something great about this show for me, a guy who seemingly can’t write about music without talking about movies or TV or fucking comic books, for someone who has difficulty writing about shit without bringing myself into it, who left academia because cutting too deeply into a telenovela ruined watching it for him. God, how many blurbs did I, in my not even two year tenure, bring up my parents in? But truthfully, what is the work that I choose to do (versus the work I’m obligater to do) but exploring what it all says about me and the people and art that made me? So yeah, Halsey will always make me think of that summer that I thought Roadies was good and didn’t know that MGK made “music”,  and I’ll never quite be able to connect to their music in a way I would have independently. This track, for all its effort, just feels like another dime a dozen single; I would fast forward through it to get to Imogen Poots and Rafe Spall flirting, and you, dear readers and fellow writers, will be unable to parse this blurb, buried in commas, semicolons, and the detritus of my perspective. I hope you’ll miss it. 
[5]

Lauren Gilbert: My first review for TSJ was a pan of a Halsey track, and so it feels fitting that my last review should also be.  Halsey is a frustrating artist to listen to; when she lets her mask slip and reveals her anger, she can write a damn good song (“at a tender age, I was cursed with rage” / “I’m tired and angry, but somebody should be”).  But most of her pop songs are deeply forgettable, and this one is no exception.  I’m glad she’s happy, but there’s no Max Martin magic here.  It’s not that the song is bad, it’s just not (so) good.
[4]

Ian Mathers: It’s my own fault for looking up these things, but this fairly standard narrative about the one who got away (directly and explicitly; that phrasing shows up in the lyrics!) takes on a new cast when you see the claim that the song is “about Halsey’s long-term relationship with Turkish-American screenwriter Alev Aydin, who directed the song’s music video and appears in it”. Given that I don’t know anything else about the two of them, suddenly it felt like “So Good” was someone Sliding Doorsing their own life, imagining a version where it didn’t work out, and maybe due to my age and marital status (tenth anniversary this November, still happy) it gave an otherwise solid but unremarkable song a strange, poignant charge. Then I noticed that the last chorus changes it so they do get together and read a bit further and discover the song is more about the period where they knew each other before they got together. And it’s still a perfectly fine song, but I miss the weirder and sadder version I had in my head for a few minutes there.
[7]

Michael Hong: Halsey seems to believe authenticity makes a pop song. They craft “So Good” around that idea, a song that gives you the cleanest image of Halsey just so it can pull the curtains aside and show you they have this lovely raspy voice and that it’s authentic and real. They write a line about Maria getting married, like suddenly that detail erases the nothingness of the rest, lines about a couple years flashing by and that one regret. It’s all just pleasant make-believe, edging towards something with each chorus without ever giving you anything, like La La Land, if La La Land were solely the glance across the club.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Until last year’s “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God” I’d given up thinking Halsey could match 2017’s “Strangers.” Twitchy and plaintive, “So Good” can’t decide whether to revel in its mid-tempo-ness or accelerate. Given the squabbles with her label, I’d say the problem is chronic.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hushed vocals and Writing 101-level lyrical details transform this half-Taylor Swift, half-campfire singalong into the worst sort of calculated catharsis. That final, good yell points to Halsey’s career-long problem: an insistence on making sure you understand the severity of her songs before letting you feel it.
[2]

Monday, August 29th, 2022

If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll have read that The Singles Jukebox will soon cease publishing.

This probably won’t come as a surprise given the reduced rate of posting and many key tracks that we would have been all over slipping through our fingers. There probably isn’t an Amnesty Week long enough for all of what we’ve missed so far. We will complete our backlog of scheduled posts and then post a more fitting goodbye at the end of these. The archives of the site will remain on-line. We’ll miss you.

Monday, August 29th, 2022

070 Shake ft. Christine and the Queens – Body

Well, it looks like we’ve almost reached an end. But there’s still time for more of what we call “controversy”…


[Video][Website]
[5.91]
Leah Isobel: “Do I want to be you, or be like you?” is one of the more durable queer koans — when it’s not enforced by gender, desire feels like ego. Do I want to give, or take? Nurture, or possess? Do I deserve you, or do you deserve me? Do I want your body if comes with your soul?
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The pace, and vibe, 070 Shake sets here is so glacial as to be sluggish; this “Body” is getting no action.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: 070 Shake’s music has always evoked the faux-sophistication of modern sci-fi — epic, sweeping minimalism, her giant synths and elegaic vocals conjuring emotion through pure show of force. It’s never meant anything, really; I’ve been fooled by her SpaceX torch songs before but no longer. Christine and the Queens presents Redcar can’t move the needle here — it’s all too much and nothing at all.
[2]

Hazel Southwell: I’d normally describe horny, drugs-referencing, sensual, blurry electro-barely-pop as exactly my music taste but this doesn’t hit at all. In a sort of inverse to the way The Weeknd’s songs commit too hard to accurately representing being messed up at a party and go through the fun zone to something else, this tries to convince you so much that it’s totally having a fun and cool time it accidentally ends up sounding like a corporate focus group. OK we got bodies, we got weird noises, we got a novocaine reference — guys, can we work on the storytelling here? We’ve gotta really get the authentic buy-in from the geriatric millennial homeowner demo.
[4]

Alex Ostroff: The gradual build from skeletal production and breaths to heavier latter-day-Kanye evil synths sets a mood, and 070 Shake and Christine and the Queens’ voices circle around one another in an entrancing way. Still, I can’t help but want something a little more substantial. “Body” feels more like an interlude or an album outro than a single. “I wanted your body, but it came with your soul” is a nice line, though.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The lilting synths over the loping bass drums are so hypnotic you almost wish that the snares don’t touch down as Chris begins to waft in, his voice so wispy and soft that the slightest move might break it. Synths crinkle as they slip under the front door, but 070 Shake kicks in the door, pulls Chris off the couch, and tosses him out into the street. As Chris falls, he begins to ponder that Dâm-Funk song he did and whether he should’ve called him to do an album together — then 070 Shake drops the Ye Vinyl out her window and it slices his body to synth ribbons which splash against the ground, shrieking and wailing, until they spin into a blinding tornado of light and disappear.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Not a demo so much as an interlude or perhaps a pupal stage: a track in the act of becoming a song. With a hook this solid, all the performer’s gotta do is not get in the way of the bloops and bleeps and helium gushes.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Christine and the Queens is consistently overrated enough (including here on TSJ) that I find myself bracing for disappointment even when he’s just a “ft.” but it turns out providing the hook on some vibey, synthy mumblerap is a good look for him. 070 Shake is still the more compelling performer here (and “I wanted your body, but it came with your soul” is a good line) but the blend works out nicely and the overall result feels like a dark, strange obverse of another good recent song about the body.
[8]

Anaïs Escobar Mathers: Talk to me with your body/when your words can’t anymore has been looping in my brain since I first heard this and it feels… timely for the kind of fatigue people are feeling around communication these days. It makes me think of sex, of touch, of affection, of grounding, of somatic bliss, of all the ways we communicate with our own bodies and others’ bodies without words. There are many ways to communicate and this song expresses that succinctly and effectively. I think there’s this place or level where we process and absorb things outside of the cerebral and “Body” encapsulates it. It’s what we’re calling a lot of art and media lately: a vibe.
[10]

John Seroff: 070 Shake’s disembodied electroburble and Christine’s pointed élan collide and blunt without significant enhancement to either. Bits of vocal and electronic filigree provide tiny sparks of possibility, but “Body”‘s overall miasma of ennui makes this bass-heavy mope du jour more of a sleepwalk than it has to be.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Not that anyone’s keeping score, but I did come around on “The Hills”. It’s a punishment jackhammer, a tripledown on fucked vibes, something so willfully obnoxious I ended up admiring it. And the bass has exquisite touch. The bass here doesn’t have the same aftershock. It taps at the shoulder as relentlessly as 070 Shake says body. But there’s a similar insistence on dragging the bit out of the cemetery, and the screams of “The Hills” are echoed in the Carpenter-core of the outro. Sometimes being transparently miserable is enough.
[6]

Saturday, August 27th, 2022

Calvin Harris ft. Justin Timberlake, Halsey & Pharrell – Stay With Me

Is it better to let go?


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: For something that starts with “Hey, it’s a mess out there,” this is unfortunately devoid of anything gritty or unexpected. The three major personalities in “Stay With Me” are flattened out and neutered by Harris’s glossy but tepid production, which feels far from the heights he achieved during the 2010s. 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Calvin Harris’s métier these days seems to be sun-soaked retro disco-pop, and this certainly fits in that bucket. Timberlake and Pharrell sound right at home on it, too (they’ve both hoed this particular row), but Halsey — uh, doesn’t. Their voice sounds lifeless and limp, and I don’t get why. It takes me completely out of the song, which is otherwise perfectly fine.
[5]

Hannah Jocelyn: Halsey’s uncharacteristically flirty hook is a [10]; it’s so hot, it’s hurting my feelings that the rest of the song goes to Pharrell and Justin Timberlake. 
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Pharrell and Timberlake have been here a thousand times, so it’s only the ill-fitting Halsey who disrupts the over-considered flow, miraculously bringing the wrong kind of blankness to the facsimile party. While the male vocalists do their best to remember what fun is, she summons a studied insouciance that jars. Either way — and from a man who once “created” disco with little more than an Amiga and his idiosyncrasies — this is the music of self-expression without any sense of self.
[6]

Al Varela: One of those collabs that seems weird on paper, but works wonderfully in execution; exactly what makes Funk Wav Calvin Harris such a delight. Justin Timberlake, even this far into his career, can knock out this brand of funk in his sleep, but it’s Halsey’s flirty chorus that makes this even more of a wonderful surprise. She doesn’t get to do much, but her presence is still baked into every facet of this fun summer love song. Pharrell acting as the smooth-voiced hypeman once again helps too!
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every part of this is perverse — the guitars are phasered within an inch of incoherence, Timberlake and Halsey are forced into strange, tight melodies without sense, and Pharrell sounds as inhuman as ever. Taken as a whole it sounds wrong, like a vinyl record left in a hot car. And yet I keep coming back to it. Perhaps, in a pop landscape filled with boringly competent disco pastiche, excitingly incompetent disco pastiche has its place.
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